I’ve never paid much attention to reviews of my books on Amazon.com or GoodReads, mostly because there is too much else flowing off the Internet that demands my attention. I just keep trying, as most of us do, to keep the Internet’s largess from swallowing me whole.
I suppose I’ve chosen not to dip into those reviews also to avoid the frustration of reading what can sometimes seem ill-informed or badly written reflections on my books. I try—don’t we all try?—not to be a snob, but I’ll admit that when a review is badly written or based on what I would judge to be a false premise, even if it’s a review in a professional publication, I can’t give it much weight, either for or against my book.
As of this writing, my new picture book, The Stuff of Stars, has received starred reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal, all publications that set the standards in my literary world. And every one of these starred reviews was itself well written, which warmed my ever-so-slightly snobbish heart.
And as of this writing, it has also had numerous reviews on Amazon.com and GoodReads. And this time I did peek. Most of those reviews have been positive, well written and satisfying to this author. But weighing in, too, are those who say things like “I’m not typically interested in poetry but I could see the appeal if you’re into that sort of thing.”
I respect the “I’m-not-into-poetry” writer, though I would say that the text of The Stuff of Stars is lyrical prose rather than poetry. But we all have a right to our preferences. I’m not usually interested in romance or mystery or science fiction, though I don’t choose to review those genres, either.
Of far more interest to me, though, are the reviewers who object to the content of my book because it doesn’t represent the reader’s own beliefs. I knew, of course, that writing about the Big Bang would offend some, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone’s “beliefs” can stand against science. Or why they must.
One reader gave The Stuff of Stars a four-star ranking despite saying, “I can appreciate this book even if it’s not my belief.” Which is generosity, indeed.
Another gave it one star and said, “If all we are is stardust what is the point of life?”
And oh, how I would l love to have that conversation!
It reminds me of a comment I received back when The Stuff of Stars was still growing and changing, a comment from someone who is one of my most important touchstones while a picture book is in its manuscript phase. She said emphatically, “Get all that death out of there!”
And I thought, but didn’t say, “No!” (There is seldom any point in saying “no” to a helpful critic. I just listen, then do what I see needs to be done.)
Because death is the point. Life comes out of death. Out of the deaths of stars. Out of the deaths of our ancestors. If death—and the incredible riches that grow out of death—were not the foundation of our universe, we would not, could not exist.
It’s not a message that suits this American death-denying culture, but as my own time grows shorter, it’s one I hold close. And such contrary views make me long for more open conversation.
Does the scientific view of the origins of the universe preclude anyone’s idea of a creating God? If it does, then perhaps that God is too small.
Does our culture’s deep abhorrence of death keep death from nurturing us, making our lives possible? We are fortunate, because it does not.
What is of great interest to me is that if an idea is dressed in lyrical language and set against a backdrop of exquisite art and presented to very young children, it can sometimes rise above our deepest prejudices.
What a blessing that is!